Won’t you be my neighbor?
August 21, 2009 | My Jottings
It’s sort of a joke in our family about what bad dog owners we are. We love our two Schnauzers Edith and Mildred more than they deserve, and they’re a bit spoiled, but they are not well-trained, and we have no one to blame but ourselves.
Schnauzers are rodent-hunters by instinct. In Germany, their land of origin, people kept them as “ratters,” just as some people who live on farms in my area keep barn cats today – for mouse control. Schnauzers are alert and curious, friendly and loyal, and so hyper-vigilant that they never seem to stop barking. Good owners take their Schnauzers to twelve weeks of dog training classes to teach their pooches how to walk nicely on a leash, how to stop barking with one dark look from the owner, and how to do a variety of commands, like sit!, stay!, down!, and don’t even look at me right now because I’m sick of your incessant barking!
But as The Dog Whisperer so regularly reminds us, we are really not good dog owners. Our Schnauzers would stay perched at our den window all their waking hours, if allowed, to be ready to bark at the slightest movement from down the street. If a person jogs by, if the mail-woman parks her truck six doors down, if a squirrel darts by, we are alerted to it no matter where we might be in the house. Edith and Millie have shrieking barks that hurt the ears and make the adrenaline flow.
Anyway, on to the rabbits. Our city is overrun by rabbits. In the past few years there have even been newspaper articles about our burgeoning rabbit population, and we’ve certainly had more than our share of bunnies in the yard. I wrote about our bunny experiences here. Rabbits are large rodents, and Edith and Millie are instinctive bunny haters, so any rabbit who crosses our property line will be chased within an inch of its life.
We have an electric fence, so our dogs remarkably never, ever go beyond the boundaries of our fairly large yard. We’re pretty certain that all the rabbits in our neighborhood have learned that those two yipping and hysterical gray dogs with the mustaches can’t come past this pine and that apple tree, because the rabbits have taken to sitting calmly just beyond the dogs’ reach, and tormenting them. “NYAH-na-na-BOO-boo!” we think they’re saying to Edith and Millie. And it’s driving the Schnauzers crazy.
And maybe our neighbors aren’t enjoying it very much either. So when we hear The Rabbit Shriek Duet, we run to the backdoor and say authoritatively and ineffectively, “GET in here! STOP that barking right now! KNOCK it off you two!” and they come slinking in, but they are never rehabilitated. They never stop it, and we’re not sure they can, because they are Schnauzers and this is what Schnauzers do. At least that’s the excuse I’m holding to so I don’t have to add “Take Edith and Millie to Twelve Weeks of Dog Training” to my already piled up to-do list plate.
Here’s a photo of Millie, stopped just at the electric border in our back yard near the house, shrieking her diligent best, at a calm rabbit several feet away who’s doing the nyah-na-na-boo-boo thing right back at her. You can see Sara and Michael in our hammock, turning to see what all the commotion is about.
I want to be a courteous neighbor so whenever I hear The Schnauzer Shriek I’m quick to bring them in and give them long lectures about being better citizens. They seem to understand what I’m saying at the time, but then the next time I let them out it’s all forgotten when they spot a chipmunk or a fawn or another dog two back yards away.
I haven’t decided yet if successfully getting Edith and Millie to instantly stop barking at a simple command is possible or not. It seems like it would go against every cell in their stout little German bodies. I know that the road to better dog behavior starts with the owners. But the thought of taking them to classes every week and then spending time daily practicing with them makes me want to take a nap. I don’t know where I could fit it in.
I guess I won’t think about that today. I’ll think about that tomorrow. Or the next day. Or maybe the next.
There’s always the chance that a rodent-only virus will mutate and arrive in Minnesota next week, killing off the entire population of critters that torment our dooginses.
That would certainly save me a lot of trouble. And our neighbors’ ears. Would someone please get on this?